July 30, 2012
Gary Mehaffy
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@GaryMehaffy on Twitter

An Interview with Armando Estrada

Interview conducted July 27th, 2012.

Were you a big fan of wrestling when you were growing up?
Absolutely. I grew up in the Chicago area, which is where I still call home today. I grew up in a family that loved wrestling. My father and my uncles used to go watch the old AWA – which was Verne Gagne’s territory – every month, back in the late 1970’s, and it started there. I was watching it every weekend. Saturday and Sunday were the days that wrestling was on in the Chicago area. I have two older brothers and a father who all loved wrestling and that’s what I watched growing up and what I fell in love with.

What led to you joining OVW?
It stems back to being a lifelong fan. When you love something so much and you’re passionate about something, at some point – and I don’t remember what age it was – but I just decided that being a fan was not enough for me. I wanted to be more than just a fan. I thought I had the size, I thought I had the skills and I wanted to be trained and see if I could make a career out of this. I decided to go to wrestling school, and I looked at a few, and Ohio Valley Wrestling was the best school that I found at the time – and I still think it is one of the best schools in the world to pursue a career as a wrestler.

When you started off, you were doing a bit of bodyguarding and managing. Were you more comfortable at that stage of your career doing that or were you hoping to go straight into the wrestling side of it?
Jim Cornette gave me my start on OVW TV, and I was a bodyguard for Muhammad Hassan, because I was a big guy and I fitted the role that they wanted. It was myself, Muhammad Hassan and Shawn Daivari and we were doing an Arab-American group, so to speak. I was so new, that to be used when guys who were there for years weren’t getting a shot and whatever, so just to be thrown out was a learning experience – kind of like how you would on an internship. I was just happy to be used and able to perform.

As you said, you were in the group with Muhammad Hussan and Shawn (Daivari). When they were called up to the main WWE roster, did you think you would be going with them as part of the unit?
No, because when they started on OVW TV they started because WWE had basically decided they were going to start on WWE TV but they wanted to have them work out a few things and get comfortable with the characters in developmental. The Muhammad Hassan character was discussed for about a year before it actually debuted on Raw. So they already had plans for Hassan and a manager. I think I was just out there to fill out the group. I wasn’t expecting to go up at all in the beginning.

You came up to the main roster the day after WM 22, when you interrupted Ric Flair’s promo. How big of a rush was that for you?
It was a rush for a couple of reasons. Number one, it was working with Ric Flair in the beginning, and the other reason was it was in my home town. So, you asked me about was I fan – I was a fan sitting in that arena possibly 12 or 15 times before I was there as a performer, that’s the All State Arena in Chicago. It was Monday Night Raw, I had never been on (WWE) TV, I had never done live television and it was live, it was RIc Flair and it was Chicago.

I was re-watching it today and you could that it was live because Ric was Ric and seemed to – I’ll not say go off script – but seemed to be going a bit and you hung with him blow for blow.
Yea. You know, you can’t script Ric Flair. You just tell Ric what you want. I like of think of myself in the same way. You don’t script me, you tell me what you want and we’ll go out there with a few bullet points and Ric will deliver and I will do my best to stay with him, ad I thought I did that night.

Whose idea was it – well, I suppose it was ultimately Vince – to pair you with Umaga?
I don’t know whose idea it was to put us together. it could have been a number of people in the upper brass, but I didn’t know him until we worked together. I had never met him until a few days before we debuted. There were a number of people that I was working with at the time, like Paul Heyman, who was writing Ohio Valley Wrestling. Paul has a long relationship with the Samoans. Michael Hayes also…..so, there were a number of people who decided that we want a large, killer heel character, but we need somebody to talk for him.

There were videos, well one in particular, that have come up of you all on the road where Umaga chopping some of the guys and just having a blast on the road. How much fun was it travelling with all the guys?
Oh boy, I tell you what – that was the first time that I had ever heard of YouTube and that (video clip) almost got me fired. The video that you’re referring to, if I’m not mistaken, happened in Nottingham at a very well known bar and grill that was connected to one of the hotels. That was just a few weeks after we had started. Somebody had captured it on video and had put it on the internet, on YouTube. It was funny, because when we watched it we were informed that initially there was talk of making an example of somebody, and I was the guy lowest on the totem pole. So, there was talk of firing somebody but luckily I came out of that. There were a lot of good times on the road, too many to name! I’d be here for 12 weeks talking to you about all the times we had on the road. Things like that sometimes help you pass the time! (laughs)

You were involved with feuds with DX, John Cena, etc – how did you find it being involved at the top of the card given your short time in the company?
It was humbling that being in the company for a few months that I was working at the top of the card, whether it was with DX, or whether it was with Cena. We feuded with Kane, with Bobby Lashley….It was pretty humbling and it showed that the company trusted us, both myself and Eddie Fatu, to be able to carry the ball and to work with the top babyfaces.

You mentioned the feud with Lashley. Upset might be the wrong word to use under the circumstances, but how did you feel given the blow off match at WM23 with Vince and Donald Trump that you weren’t there, so to speak, you weren’t at ringside?
Well, I was at ringside for the beginning of the match. I was taken out by Bobby immediately, but maybe you’re referring to me being phased away during that feud and basically Vince took over from me as the mouthpiece or manager of Umaga. You can’t argue with the owner when he decides what he wants to do. It kind of puts you in a tough spot. It was a little disappointing because I believe that I did a great job and, with all due respect to Umaga, if he wasn’t paired with me I don’t think he’s in the main event of WM23. It is what it is.

Was there any heat towards you because you as a character were starting to get cheered rather than booed?
Yea, I think that they realised that the things that I was doing were starting to get me……the fans really liked them. It’s funny – all the things that I was doing like introducing myself, introducing him (Umaga), the cigars, the laugh, the mannerisms, I stopped doing on TV. But I did them an all the live events, the non-televised shows that we put. Remember, we put on more non-televised shows than we do TV. We do TV once a week, but we do live events usually three times a week. So, I’m working four nights a week – three of those nights I’m in full Armando Estrada mode and then there’s the other day, at TV, where I’m just kind of there and not doing all of my usual stuff. It’s funny, because I was still doing all the Armando stuff. If you attended a live event in 2006/7 you probably saw a hell of a gimmick but if you turned on the TV you wouldn't have known that.

I remember seeing you at an event here in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where you were doing the whole spiel and everyone loved you – but as an effective, cool, heel character. I was surprised that they didn’t do more with you.
Well I think that some people lose sight that we’re in show business. Ricky ‘the dragon’ Steamboat told me once: “I don’t care if they like you or they hate you, but at the end of the day if every ticket has been sold then you did your job.” To hear that from Ricky Steamboat who was a producer at the time, I was conflicted. There were times when I was like “Ricky, they’re cheering me! They’re cheering me, and then I’ll get them to boo me at the end.” and he said “Don’t worry about it. As long as you’re selling every ticket here, that’s the main thing, that’s what matters in wrestling.” So, some people understood that but then there were others who allowed ego to get in the way, that didn’t like the fact that a young manager, who’d only been with the company a few months, was getting arguably the biggest reaction in the company. I’m sure there were people who didn’t like that, but it is what it is, right?

True. In mid-2007 you were moved to the ECW brand. Did you see that as a demotion or a chance to restart your character?
I didn’t see it as a demotion, because they had just launched the ECW show about a month, maybe six weeks before I started on it. It was a new show, we had a lot of great talent – guys like CM Punk, John Morrison, The Miz, Kofi Kingston – a lot of great talent on that show and I looked at it as the opportunity to be the voice of all these talented guys on that show. I loved getting to work with all those guys. It was something different from participating in a match or being at ringside during the match, but I had fun with it none the less and I thought I did a great job.

Was there any reason given for your release back in 2008 or was it the usual “creative has nothing for you”?
Well, with all respect to creative, I don’t they had anything for me as a character. What you saw was my creation – I created the Armando Estrada character. I had some help along the way from Paul Heyman, Al Snow, Tommy Dreamer and some of the other writers, but the mannerisms and the catch phrases? They were all me. The cigars, the hat, the look the swagger, the facials were all me. Back in 2008 when they wanted me to wrestle, they never gave me the chance to show what I could do in the ring. I think I just became another guy and there was nothing special about me as a wrestler. They just stopped using me and the company was dumping payroll and they basically said “We’ve had you under contract for a few months and haven’t used you.” I said “Well, if you haven’t got anything for me, what do we need to do?” Johnny (Laurinaitis) came down in person to talk to me. I was in Florida at the time, and he said “You need to work somewhere else. I think you need to go and hone your skills elsewhere.” I said “If that’s what you feel, let’s make it happen.” They granted me my release and that was that. The door was open for me to come back and it was and I did. A lot of people don’t know that, but I actually went back to the company and just was recently released two weeks ago.

It’s funny, I have that as a couple of my next points. You went back to the company at the end of 2012/the start of 2011. You appeared on Superstars once, with Tyson Kidd. Before we get to the leaving aspect; when you did come back you had dropped the accent, the hat and so on. Was this a conscious thing on the company’s part to as you to do this or was that your way of reinventing it?
That was Vince’s idea, to be a more serious character and not talk with the accent, no hat, no cigar – basically, no gimmick! I was ok with that, although I disagreed with the fact that you have an established character that was both recognised and entertaining and I’m baffled by that, because why not utilise that character? Why strip that character of everything that made him entertaining and made the fans care about him? But I didn’t mind doing something new because I’m a performer. You have to be willing to do different characters and different roles. That’s what we are – we’re athletic actors. We’re actors and you have to be able to embrace a new character, that’s the whole point.

There then came a surprise to almost everyone when a couple of weeks ago you were released and it came out that you had been under contract for around 18 months. There were rumours afterwards that there were some of creative who didn’t actually even know that you were under contract. What was going on at that time?
One of the problems is that I was brought back, I resigned with the company, but I was not at television or Pay-Per-Views, and I was not in developmental. So, the old adage in the wrestling business is “Out of sight, out of mind.” When no-one sees you week after week after week, if the writers, if the agents, if the upper management – John Laurinaitis, Vince McMahon, HHH, Stephanie, Kevin Dunn – if they don’t see you then you’re forgotten about. I wasn’t seen, I was forgotten about. I was sitting at home and I would submit ideas, but they would either not get responded to or just blown off. I’d say I went to abut three shows from the whole time I was under contract to the company.

It might be a silly question, but how frustrating was it for you and what were you doing in the interim?
Well, frustrating is a good word. Anybody who loves what they do, if they’re not able to do it, think about that. If you’re a writer and you can’t write or you’re not allowed to write, that would be frustrating. If you’re a news reporter and you’re not allowed to report the news, that could be frustrating. I was a performer and I wasn’t allowed to perform, I want able to perform. I was under contract to WWE so it’s not like I could just go and work for the local indy promotion. Sitting at home, thinking if ideas, staying in shape, submitting ideas…..What kept me busy was I got married during that time period. I moved my wife, who’s from Arizona, to the Chicago area. We planned the wedding and got her situated to her new home and so that took some time. If anybody knows what it’s like to be married, the first year, it’s a challenge. I bided my time and tried to think of different ways to get back to the dance, so to speak.

You’re still young. What’s next for you in the business? Is the door still open for WWE or do you hope to go elsewhere?
I think the door is open. I have a great relationship with upper management there, I just think that timing is everything, not just in wrestling, but if life, right? So, I think that there’s still an opportunity where if they say “You know, we need a character to do this or do that” and if fitted that Armando Estrada character description or if it was a role they think Armando Estrada is best suited for then I think my phone will ring. In the meantime, I’m available for independent bookings. I’ve already started working and I’ve got a few lined up in the coming months. I hope to get over to the United Kingdom – that remains to be seen. There’s always something going on with me.

What advice would you give to any aspiring wrestlers who are trying to get into the business now?
The first thing I would say is have a back up plan, because there are fewer jobs in the wrestling business in 2012 than probably at any time in the last fifty years. Think about that. How many guys can make a full time living and do it for 10, 15 or 20 years and save enough money that they don’t have to work? You can count them on one hand. Unless you have a back up plan, unless you have a college degree, then I would not advise you to pursue it, because a lot of guys don’t realise that you can come in, you can make a lot of money and then in two or three years, even if you’re lucky and you’re good, it could come to an end and then what do you do after that? You have to have a back up plan and you should have a college degree, first and foremost.

Do you have any words for your fans?
I’m a fan. I started as a fan and I’m still a fan. Anybody who supported me in my short career – thank you for continuing to support me. I’m nothing without the fans. Anybody who wants to keep in touch with me and know what’s going on they can follow me on Twitter - @RealArmandoHaHa – I respond, not to everybody, but I will try to write back. You can find me on facbook.com/armando.estrada.50 and thank you for supporting me all these years. I think there’s more to come. Keep your eyes posted to my social network and we’ll see! If any promoters are looking to contact me, I can be booked through bookarmando@yahoo.com

garymehaffy@hotmail.co.uk

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